Britni West's debut feature is sure to be the most enchanting feature at this year's Slamdance. An ode to small town America, every moment in West's film is is one of effervescent discovery, culling childhood wonder and adult wanderlust with gentle poetics and charmingly odd interludes of a near avante-garde documentary variety.
Filmed in West's hometown of Kalispell, Montana, Tired Moonlight
opens with images of road kill and the sounds of a synth backed score that almost feels to be from a horror movie. We then careen into the skies above Montana, through the haze of the hills and the warbly strange voice in some lost folk tune. Viewers are then plunged back to earth, to meet the denizens of Kalispell, made of such rural wonders that we feel whisked away to another planet entirely. But this is America in its most robust and natural colors, where big sky conjures dreams across golden fields and trailer parks.
It is here that we encounter Dawn (Liz Randall), a middle-aged woman, who works as a maid in a hotel, and scavenges for odd bits of junk around town. Finding a copier on the side of the road, she lugs it all the way home, where she copies pages from crossword books that she will return to the store unscathed. She then sells the photocopied puzzles as a encyclopedia-sized collection online.
Working in the grocery store is Sarah (Hilary Berg), a young single mother who moves through town with an ever present eye on elsewhere. Meanwhile her daughter, Rainy (RainLeigh Vick) bright eyed and goldilocked, gallivants through the fields with her friends, dreaming up games to play on these breezy summer days.
Dawn reconnects with Paul (Paul Dickenson), a quiet if eccentric poet who returns to town to square away the estate of his mother: a storage unit full of musty nick-knacks and broken childhood days he'd rather forget. Through West's loose-knit dreamy narrative, themes around mothers and children slowly emerge, the specters of fathers far off. If there is something to be proud of, it is the here and now, no matter the malaise that comes with it.
Shot to mesmerizing effect on 16mm by Adam Gingsberg, Tired Moonlight
effortlessly marries the intimate documentary work of Albert & David Maysles and Les Blank with the more playful fairy tale charms of Czech New Waver Jaromil Jireš. For there is magic in the mundane. Something very human, in all its little quirks, and intangible gestures, arises in the sparse dialogs and summer night partying of West's film. It is something made up of stock-cars and stardust; of mountain rams grazing in RV lots; of the need to look close to the ground, to the caterpillars, and wonder what the cosmos have wrought on our children.
For Tired Moonlight exists somewhere between that child's world of play and the adult landscape of regret. But it is not a sullen affair. For a sparkling existentialist and philosophic nature marks each blue collar encounter we have in Kalispell. This leaves us with an imprint of a myth made all the more real by the vital act of filming it.
It's all enough to make me go "Wow", soaring with wonder at just what a fresh talent like West will do next.
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